Screening younger women has been controversial, with 2009 guidelines from a U.S. federal task force recommending against routine mammography screening for average-risk women in their 40s.
The new study showed that mammograms were just as likely to find invasive breast cancers in women with no family history of breast cancer as in women with a family history of the disease. Invasive breast cancer grows beyond the milk ducts or lobules of the breast.
The women in the study were aged 40 to 49.
And women with and without a family history were just as likely to have cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes, says study leader Stamatia Destounis, MD, a radiologist at Elizabeth Wende Breast Care, LLC, in Rochester, N.Y.
Women without a family history are “average-risk” women, suggesting that annual mammograms are indeed beneficial for this age group, she says.
A criticism of screening younger women is that “you find small cancers that will never be a problem. But we found a considerable number that can’t wait,” Destounis says. “Invasive breast cancers can spread and kill.”
The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Destounis receives funding to conduct clinical research from several breast imaging companies, including Siemens AG. But the current study was independently funded without company support.
Family History May Not Be Only Risk
More than 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. in 2011, more than 26,000 of whom will be under age 45, according to the American Cancer Society.
Destounis and colleagues reviewed the medical records of 1,071 women in their 40s who had screening mammograms at their medical center between 2000 and 2010. A total of 373 were diagnosed with breast cancer.